I say we are today reminded of the noiseless course of God’s providence, His tranquil accomplishment, in the course of nature, of great events long designed; and again, the suddenness and stillness of His visitations.
So said John Henry Newman, at St Mary’s, Oxford in a sermon on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, Candlemass (February 2nd). The sermon, dating from the 1830s was published later under the title ‘Secrecy and Suddenness of Divine Visitations’ with the text ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation’ (Luke 18.20)
In the sermon Newman draws attention to the fact that for most in the Temple in Jerusalem at that time the scene of Mary and Joseph coming to the Temple with their baby was insignificant. Countless parents have brought their children to places of worship. There is nothing particularly unusual in the event. Newman comments; We know what the world thinks of such a group … The weak and the helpless, whether from age or infancy, it looks upon negligently and passes by. And yet, in this seemingly insignificant event The infant in arms was the Saviour of the world, the rightful heir, come in disguise of a stranger.
Look around now, Newman encourages us, and be alert to God among us, especially in the small and insignificant.
God’s visitations, Newman reminds his hearers, have often been silent, sudden, unforeseen, as regards the world.
And so what are we to do? Newman calls us to ponder this feast, to consider it carefully in thought and prayer. Let us then turn this Festival to account, by taking it as the memorial day of God’s visitations. Let us from the events it celebrates lay deep in our hearts the recollection, how mysteriously little things in this world are connected with great.